During the summer of 1857 the first house was built in Hiawatha. It was a frame building and stood on the ground now occupied by the Bank. The first occupant of the house was Seth Barnum who kept a hotel in it for several months. A.J. Selleg then occupied it for hotel purposes until the present Hiawatha House was completed in 1859. The first term of the district court was held in the old hotel building in 1858, Judge Petit, now one of the judges of the supreme court of Indiana, being the presiding Judge. The clerk had lost some of the papers, and the Judge, thoroughly disgusted with the court house, refused to try any cases and adjourned the court until the next term. The building has long since been torn down. The second building in Hiawatha is the one now occupied by E.W. Butt Esq., as a residence. It stood upon the lot, now occupied by the post office building and was used for a store by H.R. Dutton and B.L. Rider. They sold out in 1858 to W.B. Barnett, the stock of goods invoicing about $75. This was not the first store in the county, however, as M.L. Sawin opened a small store early, in 1857 where the Carson school house now stands. The third building in the town was the one now occupied by Mrs. E.J. Chance. This was for some time used for Probate Judge's office and in it he held Probate court. The next season quite a number of buildings were erected. In August 1857, the free-state men held a convention at Drummond's grove on farm now owned by Col. Bierer to discuss political topics and to decide what course to pursue in the coming elections. The free-state men of the territory, repudiating the bogus pro-slavery legislatures, elected by the people of Missouri had organized a government for themselves under the "Topeka Constitution" and had steadily refused to take part in any territorial election. At this convention, however, the free-state men of Browne county decided to elect officers under the Topeka Constitution in order to be in accord with their party throughout the State and at the same time they claimed it to be the right of every free-state man to vote at the territorial elections in order to wrest the reins of government from the minority party who had so outraged all sense of justice by their conduct. The result was that Ira H. Smith and W.W. Guthrie were elected under the Topeka Constitution and at the ensuing territorial election the free-state men engaged heartily in the canvass with the result before stated.
In September the free-state men held a convention to nominate candidates for the offices to be filled at the territorial election. Though Claytonville was at that time the county seat, the convention was called to meet at Hiawatha. There were but two buildings on the town site and no others within miles of the place. Neither of these buildings were large enough to hold the convention, so they held their session on the open prairie near where the Dispatch office now stands, using a lumber wagon for a speakers' stand. Hon. W.G. Sargent was nominated for Probate Judge, which was the most important office to be filled. Jacob Englehart and A.B. Anderson for commissioners. F.O. Sawin for Sheriff and Moses P. Proctor for Treasurer. As has been before stated, all were elected.
In the early summer of this year, a party on Walnut Creek was tried for theft, and as this was the first trial for a crime of this character, it deserves a passing notice. Two young men, Smith and Elder, from Maine were carrying on the farm owned by Noah Hanson. While they were in the field one day a pistol and a watch were stolen from the cabin. A worthless fellow named Turpin was suspected, and on being arrested, the stolen property was found on his person. He was taken before Esq. Foster for trial; but no copy, or the statutes could be found and Mr. Foster very sensibly decided that he could not try the prisoner without "law," and the trial was consequently postponed. The settlers were not satisfied with this tardy administration of justice, so a court was speedily organized at Sawin's store and W.W. Guthrie was chosen Judge. The fellow was tried, convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of five dollars and costs and it was ordered that he stand committed until the fine was paid. But there was no place in which to confine him and it was accordingly arranged that he be allowed to work out the fine and costs at 75 cents per day; and he was turned over to Mr. Smith, to whom the property belonged. Smith put him at work hoeing corn; but during the second day a good opportunity offering he ran away and the fine still remains unpaid.
The asssessment roll of 1857, as returned by Joseph Brown, assessor, is quite a curiosity and shows that on the 1st of March of that year there was the following property in the county:
|4 Slaves valued at||$1,400||135 Horses & mules valued at||10,903||684 Cattle " "||16,855||1 Pleasure Carriage " "||15||54 Time Pieces " "||390||Money||3,500||Bonds & Notes||2,415|
The total taxable property of every description that year amounted to $38,078, while the whole number of tax payers was 130. At the election held on the 6th of October, 1857, and in which the free-state men participated, three commissioners were to be chosen to locate a permanent county seat. I.P. Winslow, Isaac Chase and I.B. Hoover were elected. Among the many town sites that had been located during the summer there were many contestants for the honor. These commissioners met on the 14th of December, organized their board and took one ballot - the result showing one vote each for Hiawatha, Carson and Padonia. The next day the board visited the town sites of Carson, Hamlin, Padonia and Hiawatha and examined the proposals made by the different companies to donate property or money to the county in consideration of receiving the county seat. Padonia offered to donate a square of ground and a three thousand dollars court house; Hiawatha offered a building 20 by 30 feet for a court house and every alternate lot on the town site. Carson offered one-half of the lots and fifteen hundred dollars in building material and labor. A second ballot was then taken and resulted as before. A third ballot showed two votes for Carson and one for Padonia. A fourth ballot was unanimous for Carson and the county seat was accordingly removed from Claytonville to Carson. But it was not to remain there long. At the session of the legislature the following January an act was passed authorizing an election to be held April 5 submitting to a vote of the people the question of the location of the county seat. An election was accordingly held and upon the canvass of the vote by the commissioners the returns from four precincts were thrown out on account of irregularity. The vote as canvassed showed that Hiawatha had 128 votes, Carson 37, Hamlin 25, Claytonville 20, Washington 18, Prairie Springs 4 and Padonia 2; and Hiawatha was declared the permanent seat of justice of the county and no change has since been made.
On the 16th day of November, 1857, the new commissioners elected by the free-state men, met. Their first act was to appoint Ira H. Smith county surveyor. This was doubtless done so promptly as a mark of appreciation of his course in refusing to accept any favor or position at the hands of the pro-slavery board. David Peebles was then appointed county clerk in place of Waterson and John S. Tyler assessor in place of Brown. On the 21st of December, the court met again and for the last time at Claytonville, adjourning to Carson to hold their next session on the 28th of the same month. At this session Moses R. Proctor, the Treasurer, tendered his resignation and Sam'l W. Wade was appointed to fill the vacancy; and Henry Rymal was appointed coroner. On the 21st of Dec., 1857, an election was held under the Lecompton Constitution for State officers and members of the legislature. No provision was made for a vote squarely, against the Lecompton Constitution. All votes had to be "For the Constitution, with Slavery." or "For the Constitution, without Slavery." The free-state men, generally very properly refused to vote either way upon that question; but upon the question of officers under that constitution, they wisely concluded that it would do them far less harm in the hands of their friends than in those of their enemies. Brown and Nemaha still constituted one Representative District and E.N. Murrill, was elected member of the Lower House. On the 4th of January, 1858, under the authority of an act of the free-state legislature passed at their session in December, 1857, an election was held allowing a square vote for or against the Lecompton constitution. In our county 187 votes were cast against it - the pro-slavery men refusing to vote at all at this election. On the 11th of January, 1858, the county commissioners court rose to the dignity of sitting in chairs (they had previously used boxes and benches) and ordered the sheriff to procure four arm chairs and eight common ones. This was in those days considered "putting on style." But little business was transacted at these sessions except to locate roads and allow accounts against the county. At the March term of the court the Sheriff, Fulton, made his final settlement as collector of the county. It is herewith given in full:
|Cr.||By tax book of 1857,||$348.22|
|Dr.||By Delinquent list as attached,||$285.27|
|" Percentage for collecting revenue,||2.95|
|" Warrant paid to County Treas.||39.01|
|" On hand due Territory including per cent.||20.09|
Then follows a list of delinquents, embracing many of the prominent men of to-day. The free-state men would pay no taxes to pro-slavery authorities, and the pro-slavery men wisely concluded that they would not pay all the tax, so nobody paid. The heaviest tax payer that year was Henry Smith who owned three slaves upon which he was assessed. His tax was $10.95.
On the 12th of April, 1858, the board held its last session at Carson, and on the 19th (a noted day in the history of the United States,) its first session in Hiawatha was held. On the 24th of May the Commissioners appropriated $2,000 to build a court house with jail and offices attached, and Joseph Klinefelter was appointed special commissioner to let the contract and superintend the building of same. The Legislature, at their session in 1858, passed an act providing that three supervisors should be elected in each municipal township, one of whom should be designated on the ballot as chairman, and the chairmen of the several township boards should constitute the county tribunal. Election to be held on the fourth Monday of March. As this act did not go into effect in time for an election that spring, the old board of commissioners held over, but at their session on the 21st of June the board ordered an election to be held on the 22nd of July, in the several townships for the purpose of organizing under the new law. At this election Samuel A. Kingman was elected chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Irving township, Roger P. Smith for Walnut Creek and James Round for Claytonville. The records do not show that any one was elected in Lochnane township, nor does it appear that that township had any representation on that board.
The old board held a session on the 17th day, of July. H.R. Dutton was appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings to fill vacancy occasioned by death of Joseph Klinefelter. On the 16th of August the board again met, but the clerk refused to meet with them or recognize them as a legal body. He was accordingly deposed and C.T. Whittenhall was appointed County Clerk. The records fail to show why the clerk refused to act, nor does it appear that the board transacted any further business or ever met again.
The new board of supervisors met for the first time on the 16th of October, 1858, and organized by electing R.P. Smith chairman and W.B. Barnett county clerk. This board was evidently composed of clear headed business men, for one of their first acts was to order the clerk "to report to the court the amount of the appropriations heretofore made by the county board, the amount of warrants drawn, the amount paid on said warrants, and the amount of indebtedness of the county."
This report, made at the next session, showed that warrants had been issued amounting to $2136.65. That appropriations had been made for which no warrants had been issued, to the amount of $2960. That all the warrants paid amounted to but $549.58, with nothing in the treasury. It was also found that warrants amounting to $74.90 had been issued and had not been entered on the record. This showed an indebtedness of $4621.97. H.R. Dutton, building commissioner, reported that he had contracted with S.W. Wade to build a court house, and that same was to be completed on or before Aug. 1st 1859. At the election for members of the legislature, in Oct. 1858, Geo. Graham, of Seneca, was chosen to represent Brown and Nemaha counties in the territorial legislature. On the 25th of November E.A. Spooner was appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction, but he declined the office, and James A. Stanley was subsequently appointed. In the fall of this year (1858) a grand jury was empannelled for the first time in the new county.
The year 1858 will be remembered by the early settlers as a very wet one. The months of April and July were especially noted for the heavy rainfalls; the streams overflowed their banks rendering it impossible to cross them for days in succession. John Ayres built a steam saw mill at Robinson during that season, and afterwads[sic] attached a small run of burrs. There was but little immigration that year. Many who had acquired title to their lands left; those who remained had raised but little grain the year before, few having farms opened, as all had generally used up the little store they brought with them, they felt most forcibly the effects of hard times. The harvest of 1858 proved a good one, though the wheat was much injured by the rains; but there was little market for anything the farmers had raised, and while breadstuffs were abundant they had no ready money. To add to the distress, President Buchanan, unheeding the earnest appeals for postponement, had ordered a sale of the public lands in this land district, thus compelling preemptors to pay for their lands or run the risk of having their homes sold to merciless speculators. Many of the early settlers bought land warrants worth, then, $140, by giving mortgages on their homes for $250, payable in one year, worth twelve per cent. interest, while others hired money at sixty per cent. to pay for their lands. While the winters of 1855-56 and 1856-57 had been very severe, of one the mercury falling to 30 degrees below zero, the winters of 1857-58 and 1858-59 were noted as very mild ones. In winter of 1856-56 the severe cold weather drove the deer in large numbers to the timber for shelter where they were easily killed. It is said that David Peebles killed seventeen during that season. At the election of township officers in March, 1859, John Belk was chosen chairman of the board of supervisors for Irving township, James Rounds for Claytonville, L.B. Hoover for Walnut Creek and Urias Billman for Lochnane. These gentlemen constituted the county tribunal, and met for the first time on the 30th of May and organized by electing James Rounds chairman and Henry Graves clerk.
In June an election was held for members of the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and Samuel A. Kingman received 93 votes and Samuel Shields 19. The convention met on the 5th of July and organized by electing Samuel A. Kingman temporary president. On the 4th of October the constitution framed at Wyandotte was submitted to a vote of the people, the vote in Brown county being 269 for to 103 against. On the Homestead clause, which was submitted separately, the vote was 173 for to 163 against. On the 6th of Dec. the election for officers under Wyandotte constitution was held and Samuel A. Kingman, of Brown county, was elected Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Brown and Atchison counties composed the Second Senatorial District, and elected John. A. Martin and H.R. Dutton Senators by a vote of 925 to 574 for Sam'l W. Wade and G.O. Chase. Ira H. Smith represented Brown county in the lower house: H.R. Dutton at the territorial election, held Nov. 8th, had been elected to the House of Representatives of the Territorial legislature.
The autumn of 1859 found the settler's with an abundance of grain though there was little demand for it, and money was extremely difficult for them to get. While they had an abundance of those things that they could produce from the soil by their sturdy labor, it required the closest economy to provide the numberless little necessaries, without which a family can hardly be said to be comfortable these days. Those who had hired money the year before, at ruinous rates to save their homes, found pay-day near at hand without the means to meet the claims against them. In the summer and autumn of 1859 the Pike's Peak excitement was at its hight, and hundreds of teams, passed through the county on their way to the gold fields. This made some demand for corn, butter, eggs, milk &c., and those farmers who happened to be living on the line of the road were very much benefitted by it. As an illustration of the scarcity of money among the settlers at this time, the following incibent[sic] is related:
A national Republican convention was to be held in the summer of 1860 to nominate candidates for President and Vice-President. The friends of Mr. Seward, in the territory, recognizing his able services in behalf of freedom, determined that a delegation should be sent that would support him. A.C. Wilder, the chairman of the Central Committee and a warm supporter of Mr. Seward, wrote a letter to a friend in Brown county, urging that a delegate be sent to the Territorial convention. A County convention was held, but no one could be found able and willing to go. Those who could spare the time had no horses; those who had horses had no money to pay expenses. After fully discussing the matter, it was gravely proposed that a contribution be taken up to defray the expenses of the delegate. This was actually done, some giving twenty five cents, some a dime, others less, until flour dollars and fifty cents in legal tender was raised. It was calculated that by close economy this amount would defray the expenses absolutely necessary. Armed with the necessary credentials and a letter to Mr. Wilder commending the gentleman from Brown county to his hospitality, the delegate attended the convention. It was reported at the time that the closing paragraph of the letter informed Mr. Wilder that "Dr. takes his whisky straight." It is needless to add that the delegate has since been twice honored by an election as County Treasurer, and that the author of the letter has since filled most creditably a state office.
In the spring of 1860 there was quite a demand for corn to transport to the new gold mines, and several trains of teams wers loaded in the county. Nearly all who had corn sold the last bushel that they could possibly spare, the need for money was so great, trusting to the genial clime and fertile soil to provide them an abundant harvest. The price of corn at that time, May and June, 1860, was 25 cents per bushel. The winter of 1859-60 had been remarkably dry and not very cold. March and April were windy and without rainfall. Still trusting in Him who has promised seed time and harvest, the people sowed and planted a larger amount than ever before. May and June passed away with scarcely a shower. There was no harvest of small grain for it had utterly failed to mature and there were very few fields that were cut at all, while there was not one that would pay for the expense of harvesting. The crop of small grain was estimated to average two bushels per acre; but those fields that were not harvested were not included in this estimate. Had they been the real average would not have been half a bushel to the acre. Still the farmers worked away hoping and praying that rain would come in time to save their corn, but they were doomed to bitter disappointment. July and August were absolutely without rain, and not till the cool weather of fall did the long desired showers come - too late for the crops of that year. It was literally a year without rain and an absolute and complete failure of crops of all kinds. Words are inadequate to describe the bitter disppointment[sic] of those noble men and women who had struggled through the weary years to make homes for themselves and dear ones, when they found winter approaching and nothing in store for the long and bitter months. Starvation stared them in the face. Surely it was no fault of theirs. They had toiled unceasingly. They had ploughed and planted. Most faithfully had they watched their young crops, but God had not watered them, and all their labor came to naught. The winter of 1860-61 will never be forgotten by those who spent it in Kansas. But few families in the county lived comfortably, while the most had barely the necesssaries of life, and those they had to obtain from day to day as best they could. Fortunately, warm hearts and willing hands were busy in the more favored states gathering for those in need, and many were thus saved from starvation. The most striking feature of that winter was the hearty good feeling that existed between the settlers. To live through the winter and until another harvest time was the most that any hoped to accomplish, and the feeling of dependence that rested upon all, filled them with a hearty sympathy for their less fortunate neighbors rarely manifested in more favored seasons. All were ready to divide their own scanty store with those who had none; and with all the privations and hardships there was a hearty, cheerful, hopeful, manly feeling that spoke volumes in praise of the pioneers. Many passed the whole winter without having groceries of any kind in their houses. Few had a full supply of meat, and potatoes were almost unknown, and many families had little else but corn meal or flour. Many were without sufficient clothing to protect them from the bitter winds of winter, and coarse sacks and old cloth were made to take the place of boots and shoes. But those trials were not without their compensation. Men and women who bore them patiently were made stronger and better by the sufferings they endured and the Kansas of to-day is stronger, purer and nobler for having suffered in its early settlement. Too much praise cannot be given to the generous hearts in the East who contributed so liberally to the needy. Without their aid thousands would have been compelled to abandon their homes, and hundreds would have starved.
Transcribed from History and Statistics of Brown County, Kansas, comp. by E. N. Morrill, Hiawatha, Kan., Kansas herald book, news, and job office, July 4, 1876.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project